Plants are already very useful to our planet; they produce oxygen, they are a food source, natural water filters and they add to the natural beauty. However, if scientists from the Massachusetts Institue of Technology are successful in their current experiments with nanotechnology and plants, they could be used for a lot more.
Plants are very favourable for use in nanotechnology because they are stable in outside conditions, they can repair themselves, and they provide their own power (with photosynthesis) and regulate their water distribution. Because of their energy producing abilities the researchers at MIT are currently trying to harness the power of the chloroplasts in the cells of plants. If they are able to obtain this energy properly, plants could be developed to be monitors of environmental pollution, pesticides, fungal infections, or monitor exposure to bacterial toxins.
It is not the plants themselves that the research team has been trying to use for their experiments with photosynthetic energy, but rather the individual chloroplasts. The chloroplasts are removed from ordinary plant stems, but still have all the machinery needed for photosynthesis and producing the organic electricity that allows plants to build sugars. However, once removed from the plant, the chloroplasts begin to degrade due to demage of the light and oxygen on the photosynthetic proteins. Now with further research, the scientists are able to insert cerium oxide nanoparticles into the chloroplasts and wrap them in polyacrylic acid, decreasing their damage from the outside dramatically.
Once the research team was able to manage the damage done on the outside of the plants to the chloroplasts, they found that if they insert these “super” chloroplasts into the cells of a regular flowering plant (scientfic name Arabidopsis thaliana) they can increase the photosynthetic electron flow by 30 percent. With further work, it is these plants that could be grown with the super chloroplasts inside them that would create an abundance of energy. Scientists have discovered that a carbon nanotube could be insterted. Along with the heightened electron flow these carbon nanotubes would become able to sense free radicals or signaling molecules in real time, that are usually very hard to detect; thus creating plants that monitor environmental changes as listed above.
I think if done correctly these scientific advances could lead to great disoveries and move us forward into the field of plantnanobiotics. Although it may be difficult if we could find a way to grow plants with modifications that could monitor possibly important environmental changes, while being safe for the environment and self reproducing it could be a revolutionary way to use plants to our advantage. Not to mention catching possibly dangerous changes in fungal infections, environmental pollution or bacterial toxins early so that they can be prevented.
Source of Story: Science Daily